Advanced X-amination: EA joins Xbox Live

Hey everyone. With the recent news regarding EA going Live, I thought it would be interesting to see what people thought and theorize on how it would affect us gamers. Here we have gathered four members of our writing staff, Dre, Brett, Sascha and I, to talk about the news…

Dre: Personally, I think it’s going to have a big impact for the Xbox as a whole.

Fernando: How so?

Dre: I think you’ve got a lot of hold-outs, who despite superior hardware and better support of online gaming, have held off on the Xbox because their favorite EA titles only have online support on the PS2. I mean, look at the Madden Challenge. You literally had to have a PS2 to even consider participating. That does, of course, pose an interesting dilemma of what to do with the Madden Challenge when it’s on multiple platforms. But all in all, I think it’s going to make a huge difference. Not to mention that you have some other developers, like Eidos, who have held back on XBL support. These people may look at the way the decision impacts EA’s business.

Fernando: Yeah, I totally agree. Take EA Fight Night for example also. Here is a great, high quality title that could have had enormous potential for online play with XBL. There are currently several “virtual boxing commissions” online supporting boxing careers complete with promoters, managers and aspiring champs. its crazy. Now consider the potential of the XSN network and how that could be exploited in a game like Fight Night. You could live a boxing career (so to speak) online. I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long, long time.

Dre: Exactly, Fernando. To be honest, I’ve held off on Fight Night due to a lack of Live support. There’s definitely a lot of potential here, mos def.

Fernando: In all honesty I think it was only a matter of time. With the success of XBL, EA couldn’t stay away for too long.

Dre: I think EA really wanted to see how the Live service would thrive before 1) committing resources to incorporating it, and 2) threatening their relationship with Sony by “jumping ship”…all speculation of course.

Fernando: I don’t think it was a matter of jumping ship though. Did they have an exclusivity deal with Sony?

Dre: Part of me thinks “yes”, but maybe not in the contractual sense.

Brett: I don’t think there was a deal, per se. But like Dre implied, it was an unwritten agreement.

Fernando: Maybe so, but I think EA is too big a supporter to suffer any “consequences” from Sony.

Brett: Now as far as XSN support from EA, don’t count on it. EA has their own similar network on PS2 that they would be undermining by supporting XSN. From strictly an Xbox view, I find XSN too cumbersome to be seen as a practical tool for widespread use. They need to make changes before it become a viable option for the majority of sports gamers.

Dre: I agree. I don’t see EA working w/in the XSN and no, Fernando, I don’t see Sony doing anything to EA, aside from some finger-wagging.

Fernando: Right Guys, the XSN is solely a MS thing, but I was thinking in terms of a network similar to XSN with EA support.

Brett: Maybe EA’s Sports Nation will find its way to Xbox. I think what’s more important that live support is roster update possibilities Its one thing to have the ability to play with others, we all agree that’s fun, but it’s so frustrating to have significant changes take place over the course of the season.

Sascha: From what I can tell of the XBOX community, the game most people want to see is BF1942.

Fernando: Good point. So far we’ve only been thinking about sports titles.

Dre: We’ve got Medal of Honor to think about as well.

Sascha: : We have to remember that EA support holds the key to more than just sports titles – they’ve bought a lot of developers that make a lot of different high quality games. Even non-sports fans are affected. However, while this is great for current XBOX owners, I don’t see it having a huge or immediate affect on sales.

Dre: No, I don’t either. EA has always done well.

Brett: I think Battlefield will be a big deal for XBL.

Fernando: I do however see a shift in sales if they choose to support online play right away with big titles. People who have multiplatform systems and opted for Madden on PS2 instead of the box might change their minds with future iterations of the series.

Brett: Well, I think it’s too late for this generation. But Xbox 2…now that has some nice prospects.

Fernando: I totally agree, but this whole no HD talk has me worried.

Dre: It sure does. Despite rumors of no hard-drive….*grumble,grumble, mutter, mutter*

Fernando: That’s another topic altogether. Hahaha. Good timing Dre.

Brett: Guys, MS won’t rob Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. There may be no HD in X2, but there will be something that will be comparable.

Fernando: Maybe so… maybe so… I guess we’ll have to see about that one. Still this EA news has to affect more than just Microsoft.

Sascha: Personally, I see this as a leg breaking off Sony’s money counting table. Sony’s dominance was arguably built on four things: fantastic advertising, name value, a huge initial user base, and exclusive EA for online. Now one of those legs is gone, and Sony is going to have to step in and hold the table up with one hand so no more money falls off. Sony has to do something to make up for the fact that they no longer have that [EA] advantage.

Fernando: I don’t know about that last one Sascha. I don’t think that EA played that big a role in Sony’s dominance. Do you guys?

Brett: No, but I think it helped a good deal.

Fernando: Oh, it most definitely helped.

Brett: But, in my opinion, it was GTA, Final Fantasy, and Metal Gear that made PS2 the dominant console.

Fernando: Exclusive titles… so true.

Dre: Yep, however I agree w/ Sascha to a degree.

Sascha: That was advertising – all those titles were hyped to hell. EA titles didn’t need hype; they sold themselves every year on name alone.

Fernando: Yes, they were hyped. But they delivered on it. So it was, in fact, the games that helped. Not just the hype.

Dre: Long has the PS2 community held online Madden et al above our heads. This will put a dent in people’s future purchasing decisions, particularly for the next generation, as Brett said. So, it’s a big play in regards to long-term market dominance.

Fernando: Exactly. So about the non-sports titles…

Brett: Like I said, a battlefield game would be a big deal. And even for non Live games, Live awareness becomes a possibility, which is a nice thing to have since it streamlines XBL and offline play quite effectively.

Fernando: I don’t game on PC much, but I hear that BF 1942 is huge online.

Dre: It is. With the popularity of FPS’s on Live, BF 1942 will be gobbled up with voracity. I know a lot of disgruntled Live gamers who were quite dismayed when BF1942 got canned.

Sascha: It is huge, but I can’t imagine playing it on the Xbox.

Fernando: Well, have you guys read our XNA article? In it, a MS rep describes a very interesting situation whereby PC and Xbox gamers can combine to fight an online war. [Check it out.] From the way he described it, it sounded much like a BF 1942 situation.

Dre: I think a melding of PC and Xbox FPS’s is a terrible idea.

Fernando: Why’s that?

Dre: Simply because the PC gamer will own the console gamer due to versatility of controls, etc. Having played both PC and console, I think the PC gamer would have the distinct advantage.

Fernando: Well, I think it plays a little differently. PC gamers would be in command while the console gamer would fight it out in the trenches. Something like that…

Brett: You know, this deal with EA should squelch any rumors of Visual Concepts being purchased by MS, which is kind of a shame.

Dre: It is. That’s a bummer.

Sascha: Rumors of a VC purchase has ranged, from Sony to MS. Maybe they’ll go back to Sony after this. It would be a nice way to counter the EA support on Live; having in house sports titles the quality of Sega’s? Combined with Sony’s advertising, they could do well. However, Burnout 3, NFS: U2, and Def Jam Vendetta 2 on Live = good stuff. I care more about those titles than any of the sports games. Rumor had it Sony wanted to pick up VC before MS.

Brett: And now, it is more plausible.

Sascha: Maybe Sony will buy them to replace 989, put some major advertising behind the games, and get them some notoriety.

Brett: Before when they had exclusive support from EA, it made no sense.

Sascha: True.

Fernando: Word.

Brett: Now, while not making total sense, as EA still supports Sony, it does open the door a little bit. A foot could sneak in and kick it open.

Sascha: Do you think MS will be smart enough to advertise the gain?

Brett: Of course!

Sascha: Because if fans don’t now the advantages of Live over the PS2 online system, then it’s just like “ok, now they’re both online.”

Brett: It should be a staple of their E3 press conference.

Sascha: MS thus far has failed to advertise the advantages of Live, as well as the advantages of their Xbox hardware (HD, etc)…they need to realize they need to make the user base AWARE of these things. PS3 will have an HD and Ethernet out of the box next generation, and their advertising will have people believing they were the first. I think you overestimate the casual gamer.

Fernando: You seriously think the people don’t know? I’m pretty sure the casual gamer (especially one who owns the Xbox) knows what he has.

Brett: Remember, Xbox is, for the most part, not the platform for the casual gamer, which is part of the problem. This deal will correct that, in part. Hence, it will be made clear to consumers.

Sascha: Yeah, but the people that don’t own an Xbox aren’t going to buy one simply to play EA titles on Live. If MS doesn’t advertise the hell out of Live’s improvement over the EA experience on PS2, then we won’t see a huge boost in console sales…

Dre: I think MS will be sure to make it known.

Fernando: As do I.

Sascha: EA will still be multiplatform remember – their commercials will be limited to having an Xbox Live icon at the end of each commercial.

Dre: This is one of those moments when the tide can turn.

Sascha: If the tide turns we won’t be getting wet from it till next generation – PS2 has way too much of a lead to be knocked down this generation.

Dre: Like I said before: Everyone wins on this one. Except Sony, and hey, that’s ok.

Brett: Well, Nintendo doesn’t win, but that aside…

Dre: Nintendo hasn’t been winning much of anything.

Brett: They have greater issues to tend to first.

Sascha: Haha, true.

Brett: I think we all agree this is a strong building block with EA.

Sascha: Definitely – I just think EA benefits far and away more than anyone else. Sony lost an advantage, MS leveled the online playing field in terms of support, and EA gets mass money from two platforms.

Dre: I think this is a win-win situation for every involved party. EA will be able to stave off encroaching Sega in the sports market and MS will have further support from a big-name development firm.

Fernando: Some would say “too little, too late.” I, for one, am happy. I’d be happier if we could get a straight and definitive statement out of either camp (EA or MS) but in the event that it does happen the prospect of playing ANY quality EA title on XBL is enough to get me stoked. Maybe now I will see what all this BF 1942 hoop-la is about.

Brett: I think while EA’s support of Xbox Live will be appreciated by current Xbox owners, it will do little this generation to secure a greater share of the market for Microsoft. I do, however, fully expect Microsoft to make the most of this transaction over the next several years, particularly as Xbox 2’s arrival nears.

While opinions will definitely vary, these aren’t the be all and end all of what needs to be said. What do you guys think? Please, chime in!

Check back for more info in our coverage of this year’s E3. In the meantime… click here for more information on EA’s decision to go Live.